Released 2010. Director: Mike Leigh
A LOT COULD HAPPEN IN THE COURSE OF A YEAR. Or not much at all. Another Year is a humane and unpretentious film in which Mike Leigh takes us through four seasons in the lives of a family and friends that pass through their door. It’s sparse of story yet rich in detail that reveals much about relationships, rifts and the comfort and consolation that only human connections can provide.
It’s spring in London when we first meet Tom and Gerri, a married couple nearing retirement age. Tom is an engineer and Gerri is a counsellor. When they’re not at work, they like to spend time at their community allotment tending to their vegetables. They have a 30-year-old son Joe who’s a solicitor. Tom and Gerri are gregarious and generous people who often have friends over for dinner, one of whom is Mary, a colleague of Gerri’s she’s known for 20 years.
Middle-aged and divorced, Mary is socially awkward, her nervous chatting a defense mechanism as she tops up her glass repeatedly. Mary also likes to flirt with Joe, who’s polite and probably unwittingly giving Mary false hopes.
Tom’s old friend Kevin comes to visit in summer. The men reminisce about their younger days, glad to catch up over a meal and drinks. Too many drinks, in fact, as Tom and Gerri notice, and sense their friend trying to hide his unhappiness. When Mary reluctantly gives Kevin a lift to the train station, Kevin makes a clumsy advance on her and was forcefully rebuffed. Mary seems physically repulsed by the man.
One day in autumn Joe introduces his new girlfriend Katie to his parents. Mary, who visits on the same day, is first surprised, then becomes rude to Katie. Her jealousy is clear to see and her behaviour upsets Gerri. Some months later, Tom and Gerri attend the funeral for the wife of Tom’s brother Ronnie. A run-in with Ronnie’s estranged son Carl reveals there’s much friction between father and son. To console Ronnie, Tom invites him to stay with them in London for a few days. Uninvited, Mary shows up one morning, the first time she’s been here since the unpleasant encounter involving Katie.
Another Year moves along without adhering to a conventional movie narrative structure because, hey, there’s not really a plot here. As is Leigh’s style, the script is a result of months of rehearsals where the cast improvise their dialogue, which brings a sense of authenticity and unpolished naturalness of everyday interactions. Through the four seasons there was a birth, a death, many bottles of wine opened and many little moments in life when much is revealed in the way people speak or act.
Tom and Gerri are like a rock in the current of time. Their house is an island where friends and family come to steady themselves, catch their breath, share the woes and joys as life goes on. This non-descript semi-detached dwelling is comfortable and warm. Looking inside you could tell people who live here are happy and welcoming. In contrast, Ronnie’s house is cold, harsh and claustrophobic. We never see where Mary lives. For a person so afraid of being alone, she never once invites Tom and Gerri over for a change.
Tom and Gerri’s allotment is like a metaphor for life. No matter the season, these constant gardeners dig and plant, water and fertilise. They put in regular effort to make sure their vegetables thrive. If you neglect the important things in life, you’ll have no harvest and nothing to show for.
The cast, as in a typical Mike Leigh movie, is uniformly excellent. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are a portrait of domesticity and contentment, a beacon of purpose in contrast with the loneliness brought to life by Lesley Manville, her behaviour a plea for help in an unfulfilled life marked by self-pity. Peter Wight as Kevin; David Bradley as Ronnie and Oliver Maltman as Joe have shorter screen time but are no less persuasive and genuine in their roles.
The final shot we see as the movie ends is Mary looking uncertain, possibly feeling excluded. The scene cuts to black in mid-dinner, which may come across rather abruptly. Then again, life doesn’t always end on an orchestrated note and our time looking into the lives of this group of people has finished. The slice of life we’ve seen is not meant to be complete story arcs, which means some situations are left unaccounted for. What we’ve seen, as the year passes, are people celebrating, commiserating, reaching out, retreating, accusing, making peace, sharing, … This has been their year. How's yours?
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